Heading to the auctions? Here's how to prepare

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Johnny Fleetwood

As classic car prices continue to rocket and the benefits of investing in a valuable vehicle over bricks and mortar become more appealing, motorists are on the hunt for the hidden gems on the market that are likely to appreciate in value. Similarly, others are keen to sell their weekend-runners for a top-notch price.

But if you haven't got a few million pounds to throw at a Ferrari Dino and it's your first time at an auction house, what should you be looking out for? To find out, we sat down with Barry Clow and Joe Watts of Classic Car Auctions.

Barry Clow: Classic Car Consigner

How does it work?


All of the cars that you can see here are in a magazine that can be bought for £5. This gives you all the information about every car available in the lot and there's details about the condition of the car - we grade them with a score out of 135.

Anyone can come along and look at the cars and on the bottom of the page it tells you what the star ratings are. Ultimately, most people who turn up to the actions have done their homework on the cars, because everything is online. They then come here to see the cars, look at all the paperwork, such as the logbook and the car's service history.

Once they've established whether or not they want to buy the car, they have to register. Once registered, you then get a paddle card - before you know it, you're in the auction room and that's it. You've got to pay for the cars the same day, in full.

Classic Car Auctions at Silverstone

Classic Car Auctions at Silverstone


What makes Classic Car Auctions different from other auctions?

The big hook for everyone is we are the sister business of Silverstone Auctions. We've sealed some significant sales this year and achieved some world record goals, catering for the cars in the lower bracket - these represent 80 per cent of what the classic car market is here within the UK [in terms of sales, the type of values]. This is very much your man-in-the-street, accessible to the public, auction.

How do you assess cars?

It's very much focused on the vendor to give us all of the information. So, someone will phone us up and say: 'I want to consign my car to your auction. What do I do?' They have to register and then fill in all these questions that relate to these ratings, which we give. This information is then processed and we build it into a presentation sheet that is attached to the car on the website.

Is there any concern about leaving people to assess their own cars and how honest and accurate they are?

Well, there's only six of us on the team and we've got a lot of experience between us, so we know what to ask in relation to each particular car. Combining our experience, our knowledge and the questions we ask, the idea is that the vendor gives us the correct information, so that they we can put it onto the website and produce it here today.

Five stars on our scale is concours, but it virtually doesn't exist. We're very hard on these descriptions. What we prefer to do is underpromise and overachieve, rather than the other way around. We are hard on the cars' descriptions because it's better to come and have a pleasant surprise rather than a bad one. It's a very slick operation and we've got it down to a very fine art from our experience of doing the Silverstone Auctions.

Do you see the vehicles here today as something that people could drive every day?

It depends what kind of car it is. You certainly wouldn't get away with driving [the vintage cars] every day. But at the other end of the scale, you could most certainly get away with driving most of the Porsches. There are a few modern classics from the 80s to the early 90s, because ultimately as time progresses, the volume cars generally disappear and then 10 years later, all of a sudden they become a very collectable car.

What advice would you give to people coming to an auction for the first time?

I would advise they go to a classic car auction to simply observe before going to buy something. You get a feel for it, to understand the kind of car that you're after. Ask all the relevant questions and do all your homework on it because ultimately, you need to come in here with your eyes open.

These old cars are machines that have been stood for a long, long time. They clock up mileages, so they will go wrong and they do go wrong. Do your homework, look for the car that you actually want and make sure that it has all of the relevant paperwork with it. Then get a feel for the auction house, how it actually works, familiarise yourself with standing in the auction room, be comfortable with it and set yourself a budget – or at least try and set yourself a budget!

What do you drive?

My everyday car is a Lexus GS300 sport and I've got a Porsche 928 tucked away in the garage.

If you know what you're doing, a classic car is a good investment, simply because the business is very good - everyone is very positive about the classic car market in the UK. Everyone knows what the best cars to buy are at the moment and, ultimately, it's Ferrari and it's Porsche. If you get one of those two manufacturers - providing you've bought a sound car in the first place - you can maybe hold onto it for two or three years and it will make you a nice return in the process.

Joe Watts – Auction Manager

Is it daunting entering an auction room for the first time?

There's no hidden agenda. The cars are presented honestly and the condition reports in the window are online for weeks before the auction. We want to give our buyers confidence, because some of our buyers have never been to an auction before and I can imagine they think of Bonhams or Coys and instantly say to themselves: "gosh, what if my hand goes up at the wrong time?", those sort of clichés.

We're busting away all those myths and saying that going to an auction is actually a really fun day out; you can come and spend a couple of thousand pounds, or £20,000, and take away the same satisfaction and enjoyment, regardless of how much you spend.

You can see, the demographic here is couples; it's guys in their 20s and enthusiasts and that's what we wanted. The tagline was 'come and spend a little bit of money, buy right'. But really, it's about the experience of making classic car auctions as honest and approachable as possible.

What do you see as the main unique parts of CCA?

We're breaking down the myths about auction houses and classic cars and saying: "it's not cloak and dagger. Come and learn about the cars via us, make an informed purchase, don't exceed what you can afford, but enjoy these cars. They're usable, enjoyable cars that people keep for two, three or five years and maybe look to sell on.

What would see the main common mistakes to avoid at auction are?

Do your homework. Get to know a model. If you want a Mini, you can become an expert at home in a week. Do as much homework as you can. Come to us with some knowledge, I would say - check the difference between a '59 Mini and a '65 Mini, for instance, and we can help you with the price and where we see it in the market place. That's where our knowledge comes in.

Secondly, I would always buy with your heart as well as your head. These cars smell, feel and look emotive. But don't disconnect your brain in terms of the control - temper it with an informed decision. Ultimately, if you solely buy with your heart, sometimes you're disappointed.

Do you sell more everyday cars than collectables?

We have modern classics sitting with what I'd call true classics, so certainly some of these cars - the SLs, M3s and Alpinas - you could drive out of here. You could decide to drive 1,000 miles in them and they would happily do it. Not all of the cars will, because you have to be mindful that some have been sitting and locked away in garages for years.

Do you have a car collection of your own?

I drive a little BMW 1-Series every day but I have a 1966 Land Rover tucked away - it's a restored Series II, short wheelbase; real farmer's spec!